Should Amaechi Be Minister ?…The Petitions, The Defences, The Divisions


Since the birth of the current democratic rule in Nigeria, 1999, Rivers State has never been as divided by post-election disputations and ranchor as does this year’s exercise. So divided, the state, has, on a daily basis, made newspapers headlines for all the wrong reasons, yet the political class seems unperturbed.
But perhaps the most polarizing of issues is whether or not, former Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari, among 21 Nigerians in an initial list sent to the Senate for confirmation, should indeed be screened and or cleared as representative of Rivers State. For this, petitions, protestations and litigations have piled up for and against Amaechi’s choice.
There are today, two schools of thought, though not proportionate in size, but equally anxious, forceful and unrepenting. Both groups are convinced and so are bent on convincing others why they believe or not Amaechi is a fit and proper choice to represent the state in the federal cabinet.
Never has the choice of a Minister from Rivers State generated so much controversy, as has the choice of former Governor Amaechi. Infact, there is a third group that fears that which ever group that emerges victorious, in the end Rivers will not be better for it. That the animosities and vendetta that daily play out would continue to polarize the political class and by extension, Rivers people.
Those who think Amaechi does not deserve Senate’s confirmation as Minister to represent Rivers, hinge their arguments on moral, constitutional and indeed socio-political variables. They insist that Amaechi has a moral burden to discharge by coming out clean on corruption charges leveled against him by the Probe Panel that investigated his activities while as governor of the state.
That report outlines several breaches, questionable sale of government assets and diversion of public funds by the governor and some of his former commissioners. The Panel’s report has since been studied, addressed and a white paper issued, affirming that state funds running into billions of naira were indeed unaccounted for.
This school holds that a public official facing such corruption allegations and litigations arising from same in court, should not be given any position of trust, as an unfavourable outcome from the courts would be source of huge embarrassment to the Buhari administration and compromise the anti-graft crusade’s drive.
The group also points to constitutional concerns. Former Governor Amaechi, they recall, refused to hand-over to his successor, one validly declared winner of the governorship elections of this year. Some even allege, that to frustrate the hand-over, Amaechi not only stayed away, he also caused to be unaccessible the traditional parade van, for such events, thus forcing the new government to secure one from Ondo State.
This attitude, they insist, amounts to impunity of the highest order and indeed a breach of the constitution, that demands a smooth transition from one government to another. They insist that the same person rendered an arm of government dysfunctional for over a year and cannot be depended upon to be fair to all concerned based on his antecedents.
Another is the socio-political drift.
President Buhari recently withdrew his initial nomination of the former Niger State Deputy Governor Ibeto on grounds that the present governor and the ministerial nominee were from the same senatorial zone. That if the much needed socio-political balancing and integration were to be achieved, another be chosen to replace the first nominee.
Expectedly, in its third argument, this group insists that the Niger State example is exactly what obtains in Rivers. That not only that Governor Amaechi, who governed the state for eight years is of the Upland, he is indeed of the same Senatorial District with incumbent Governor Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike. That since that is so, Amaechi’s nomination be withdrawn and replaced with a Riverine nominee from a different Senatorial district.
And finally, that with the bad blood which Amaechi’s nomination has generated, it is very unlikely that, if chosen, he would work closely with the state government in the interest of the state. Therefore, they fear, his clearance as Minister will be a great gamble, that the state can ill-afford.
But the second group counters, saying all the allegations of corruption leveled against Amaechi were actuated by malice, personal vendetta and indeed political hatred. They say Amaechi is a rare patriot, a change agent and indeed an exceptional leader that would never compromise his integrity.
The group insists that Amaechi’s achievements, as governor in areas such as education, health, infrastructure development and indeed his political contributions towards deepening democracy in Nigeria qualifies him as first among equals to be chosen as Minister. They point to his doggedness, drive and resilience in standing-up against the federal might under the Jonathan Presidency, to popularise the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, as a formidable credential that stands Amaechi out.
More importantly, the group insists that the country operates the accusatorial process of prosecution, whereby an accused is presumed innocent until proven otherwise as against the inquisitorial process which condemns an accused until he or she proves himself or herself innocent. That being so, the group insists, Amaechi remains innocent of all the corruption charges leveled against him until his accusers prove otherwise.
Infact, the group says the former governor’s libel suit against some of his accusers, already in court, is an example of an innocent man legally protesting a smear campaign intended to tarnish his image and bring him to public odiom. These are why the group insists, former Governor Amaechi be screened, found worthy, and be confirmed as one of Buhari’s ministers to drive the change agenda in the country.
These indeed are very strong arguments for and against Amaechi’s choice which if not properly tackled and indeed addressed could institutionalise the strong divides into potential enemy camps, and further polarise the state, in ways that would make development difficult, if not impossible.
This is because, soon after Amaechi’s choice as a ministerial nominee was unveiled by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, the three senators representing Rivers State protested. They insisted that Amaechi ought to discharge the moral burden of coming clean from the corruption allegations against him before he could be cleared.
At first, the Senate flew a kite that for a Minister to be cleared, he must have the endorsement of at least two senators from his constituency, meaning, his state. Such endorsement by Rivers senators would have been unlikely if the Senate had stood by it.
This means, apart from the state government, the state assembly and the Integrity group which resent Amaechi’s choice, three representatives of the state, in the upper chamber of the National Assembly do not approve of Amaechi’s choice. If the House of Representatives members from Rivers were to be joined in the fray, the outcome would also not be different.
Bottom line is, qualified, dutiful and pragmatic as Amaechi may be, he would not be able to work well with elected representatives of the state. Without such vital synergy, it is very doubtful if the state could enjoy the best representation at the federal cabinet level.
Another hiccup is that of geo-political balancing. In his last days in government, as governor of Rivers State, Amaechi made such even power-sharing one of his planks, of campaign for change. That was why he stood for the candidature of Dr. Dakuku Peterside, of Opobo, from a Senatorial district that is yet to produce a governor. As a Riverine, it was also expected to check the lopsided choice of politicians for the governorship, in favour of the upland, in the past 16 years.
Unfortunately, by the declaration of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) after the state’s governorship elections, Rivers people preferred Chief Nyesom Wike as governor to Amaechi’s choice. What is on ground therefore, is the fact that the present Governor is not only an uplander, he is indeed from former Governor Amaechi’s Senatorial district.
This is why many think that if indeed Amaechi truly believed in his support for a Riverine candidate from a different Senatorial district, other than those that have produced governors, now is the time to demonstrate his patriotism by disqualifying himself and instead recommend one that fits his pre-governorship election crusade.
That way, many will see him for the change agent that he is. Hail him for the patriot that he is. And indeed celebrate him for the selfless politician he wants the people to see him. It will indeed earn him the respect he desires as one of the statesmen, Rivers will donate to Nigeria’s democracy.
My Agony is that very few ambitious politicians, can willingly risk staying far away from the corridors of power, and be able to make the needed impact in any electoral process. Ask Atiku. Buhari is a rare aberration to the rule.